Weaver Nests

Donaldson-Smith Sparrow Weaver and nest, Samburu, Kenya

As the safari guide cruises across the African savannah, with wild cheetahs stalking gazelles and thousands of wildebeest amassing in huge herds, no one is looking for a finch-like bird. But after a few days one starts to wonder: what are all those grassy clumps in the trees?

 

Those are weaver nests.

 

Weavers are a large family of colorful songbirds similar to finches, and they are one of the most architecturally-talented birds on the planet.

 

There are 64 species in the Ploceidae family, found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. They do not migrate, living year-round in warm climates.

 

To learn more about the bird, visit Wikipedia Weaver Bird. You will see there are more than just 64 species from the Ploceidae family; additional weaver birds in other taxonomic families total 117 species.

 

Zambia Village surrounded by grass

 

Weaver nest, Zambia

 

The nest is built with grass found in the immediate vicinity. The males build the nests; females choose their mate based on the nest’s location, design, and comfort.

 

Typically bird nests are either open cups or hidden inside tree cavities. But not the weavers’.  It is cylindrically shaped; with a narrow entrance hole usually facing downward to deter predators. In the African savannah, where predators abound and trees do not, the weavers have cleverly designed an enclosed grass clump hanging from a tree.

 

Named for their weaving abilities, the male uses only his feet and bill to weave the elaborate construction. First he tears grass blades and other materials into long strips, then he loops the initial strands onto the tree limb.

 

Next he intricately weaves the grass to form the hollow body; last, he creates the tubular entrance.

 

The weaver birds reside in many different countries, each with different habitats, so the building materials vary. Notice in the photos above, the dry grass around the Zambian village is reflected in the weaver nest built nearby.

 

Moreover, each weaver nest design is species-specific. I have included diagrams from my field guide (Birds of Kenya, by Zimmerman, Turner, Pearson, 1999) to demonstrate how consistent this is.

Weaver nest diagram in Birds of Kenya

Second weaver nest diagram in Birds of Kenya

Number 1 in the first diagram, for example, belongs to the African Golden Weaver. Numbers 10a and 10b in the same diagram, each with dual parts, is home to the Spectacled Weaver. The tree in the second diagram, labeled 10a, shows multiple Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver nests.

 

The Sociable Weaver has the most elaborate nest of all.  They are colonial nesters and build massive nests that can weigh up to a ton. One nest can have over a hundred pairs of nesting sociable weavers, and additionally host other non-weaver species concurrently. This nest is the largest built by any bird on earth.

Sociable Weaver nests, Namibia. Photo: Adam Riley, 10000birds.com

Regardless of how many birds are occupying the nest, sometimes a pair only, there is a lot of color and chatter and acrobatics.

Vieillot’s Black Weaver male weaving, Ghana. Photo: Adam Riley, 10000birds.com

When we watch television documentaries about the African savannah, it looks like there’s an adrenaline-raising chase going on all the time. In reality, there are certainly moments like that, but often lions are sleeping during the day after a night of hunting; or there’s no action in sight. There are definitely lulls.

 

This is a good time to seek out the weavers. Because they never seem to stop and rest, they are busy with their home-building tasks always. And it’s no wonder–there’s a lot of weaving to be done.

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise noted.

For more Weaver info and photos: 10,000 Birds.

Sociable Weaver nest from below. Photo: Rui Ornelas, courtesy Wikipedia

Sociable weaver nest on electricity pole, South Africa. Photo: Mike Peel, courtesy Wikipedia

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83 thoughts on “Weaver Nests

    • They are indeed spectacular nests, Andrea. And the more one travels around Africa, the more you see the different structures and marvel. Thank you, as always, for your wonderful visit today.

  1. Another awesome jaw dropping post Jet 🙂 As a tapestry weaver I am seriously impressed with what these birds can do. Do you think the Spectacled Weavers build more intricate nests because they can see better? Please don’t harangue me too much for my awful sense of humour lol 😉
    I can’t believe the size and weight of those multiple nests or should I say condominiums.

    • Enjoyed the weaver humor, Alastair, you got me laughing. Tapestry weaving is an interesting hobby, Alastair, I am glad to share the many grass tapestries with you. Always fun to have you stop by, thanks very much.

      • Oh how wonderful, Alastair. Your website was eye-opening, and your tapestries are gorgeous. I found the colorful geometric ones especially attractive, and I smiled when I saw the community project because it looks like the Wales countryside photos I love so much on your blog site. I so admire tapestry, thanks for sharing your expertise, my friend.

      • Thanks very much Jet. I exhibited in California about 15 years ago when California Fibers and New Fibre Art (UK) exchanged exhibits. I was one of the organisers at this end. I’d love to visit someday. In the meantime my current project combines StillWalks and tapestry in a Sound and Weave exhibition for the British Tapestry Group!

      • How very wonderful to combine your expertise in sound and tapestry. If you are ever in the Bay Area, Alastair, let me know. I have some amazing frog and cricket sounds where I live. Weave on!

  2. I’ve been interested in weavers when one year long ago I saw a nest woven by some house sparrows in Central Park. I wonder still how that happened. Perhaps they reverted to some ancient genetic link to African Weaver Finches? Love you post Jet.

  3. Jet you have taught me so much about birds since I began following you but honestly this may be the most astounding thing yet. I thought it amazing just to think of males madly weaving up home sweet home to outdo the neighbours. However that sociable condo unit idea on steroids is mind boggling. Weighing up to a ton?! Some poor snoozy lion is going to get a heck of a concussion should an afternoon nap coincide with a faulty building plan.

    Now I’m concerned these may have been present in the trees during our time in Africa and we didn’t even know it! Too busy watching herds of elephants and necking giraffes to see the architectural wonder going on in the trees.

    Astounding Jet. Loved this post.

    • Your comment was a joy, Sue — your realizations and humor had me laughing. The weavers do not get top billing on African safaris, which is understandable; so I’m glad I could share their mastery with you here today. It’s less distracting here, when you’re not bumping along on a savannah jeep. Much appreciated, Sue.

    • I agree, Walt. Fortunately there have been many studies. I used those field guide diagrams so much that I wrote inside the front cover what page number they were on, for quick reference. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

  4. Thanks, Jet. I’m always learning here. These birds are amazing, building and weaving from grasses and such. When you really stop and think about what they’re doing, it is astonishing! I’m still happy when my bootlaces get tied…
    Thanks again, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • It truly is astonishing when you think about it. It’s a stark world they live in, but they’ve managed to keep proliferating, largely due to the ingenuity of their building techniques. Always a treat to teach a teacher something, many thanks for your delightful visit today, pc. I’m heading north for the weekend, should be fun — I hope it is a fun one for you, too.

  5. Holy cow, Jet, those are some serious nests!! But I guess apartment/multi-family homes are always larger. 🙂 When I spot something here similar to that first shot, it tends to be a hornets’ nest, so this was much nicer.

    janet

    • It’s really fun to see them all. Often there are quite a few closer into the human establishments, too, where there are more trees. I’m glad you enjoyed the weaver nests, Janet. Good point about the hornets’ nests — you wouldn’t believe how huge they get in Africa. Thanks very much.

  6. Wow! the nests are a work of art and the sociable weaver nest is incredible. it is huge and can weigh up to a ton is simply mind-boggling. the nest on an electric pole is a structure! i wonder how long it takes to build? Jet, thank you very much for all your awesome posts! i am learning a lot. wishing you a great weekend! 🙂

    • The electrical poles are becoming more of a tool for the sociable weavers, isn’t that a crazy photo, Lola? Indeed they are a mind-boggling species, happy to share them with you, Lola. Thanks so much.

  7. I very much enjoyed learning about the weavers from your post. It’s so fascinating to know how such elaborate nests were built by these birds. The picture of the bird weaving green grasses into a nest answered a naive question I had about how in the world these birds could weave dry leaves into a nest. Duh.

    • I liked that photo, Keng, for exactly that purpose–to demonstrate how a bird could weave. I am delighted you were engaged and interested, and appreciate your visit and comment.

  8. Fascinating post and I had no idea that there was a bird that created these amazing nests, especially the sociable weaver nest. I enjoyed your comment about the lull in activity on the safari, I often will change the channel when documentaries concentrate solely on the animals stalking their prey. Loved the shot of the Zambia Village and learning about these interesting birds.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, ACI. It is interesting to see the grass nests around villages, and the little kids always wave as we cruise by. The teenagers never wave, and the adults usually do not look up. But the little ones, they shout the word “candy” in Swahili and wave and smile. We never stopped, as it wasn’t good to hand out candy (no dentists). And I, too, don’t particularly like the documentaries that are solely about the chase; they’re misleading about true life on the Serengeti. Always a pleasure, ACI.

  9. The Taveta Weaver is the only bird of this kind I van on my list. I was so impressed by their intricate woven nests. You have defined a good bunch of weavers most likely related to one another. Great post my friend. 🙂

    • When I was preparing this post I looked on my bird list (I am an avid lister) and was surprised to see I have seen 29 weaver species. There are so many species. I am not familiar with the Taveta, so I liked knowing you saw it, HJ. Many thanks for your visit, HJ, I hope this week was a successful healing event for you.

  10. This was absolutely amazing! Nature is so incredibly magical!
    I particularly appreciated this:
    The males build the nests; females choose their mate based on the nest’s location, design, and comfort.:)

    • Imagine a one-ton nest! And since electricity has been introduced, the poles are a helpful tool for the weavers (but not so good for preventing electrical fires). Thanks for your visits today, Resa, much appreciated.

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